Colorado Water Law

For those from back East our water laws in Colorado and the rest of the West can seem quite confusing. In fact even when you understand the basics a Colorado resident can still still get a little bit turned around when trying to work through where water rights may have gone. We would like to supply you with a simplified and abbreviated lesson on water law in Colorado, however, this knowledge is no substitute for ones own due diligence or utilizing legal council as water ownership can easily be worth tens of thousands of dollars.

In the West water law is based on the prior appropriation doctrine. The simplest way to remember this is “first in time first in right.” In the East water law is based off of riparian rights. This means that abutting a river or stream grants you access to utilize this water. Western water rights holders do not need to be near to the water source in order to obtain rights, which is why there are a substantial number of water pipeline projects in Colorado.

Purchasing a property in Colorado may mean several things when it comes to gaining water for the property. Some properties are under the service of municipal service providers or other water districts. This means they simply pay their monthly water bill and have water provided to the property through existing water infrastructure. This is the typical situation for most homes within city limits throughout Northern Colorado. Others may have access to a well. In this case the well will have been permitted for a specific use. This could be for residential use only or for agriculture or livestock use as well. Finally, you might have to buy shares of water in order to participate in the water district where your property is located. This is most often the case in areas outside of major towns and cities, and when you are building a new home.

Hopefully, that provides a very brief overview of Colorado water law. There is obviously a great deal to be concerned about when it comes to water and the real estate transaction in general. We are happy to work with you to provide guidance through all the unknowns and to make sure your new property meets your needs. If you have any questions feel free to contact us.